Saturday, September 20, 2014

Backpacking Phnom Penh, Cambodia 101

Phnom Penh's Royal Palace
Phnom Penh City... I love this City...

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, until now is hard for me to describe. I don't know if i like it or not. It's funny because this city is where i stayed the longest en route to Mekong River. For two weeks, i spent the best of my days walking around, doing crazy stuff, and hanging out with Khmer crew.

The city was once known as the Pearl of Asia. The capital of Cambodia is bustling city littered with temples, crumbling structures from the 60's, friendly monks and immeasurable number of dive bars, pool joints, and night clubs. 

Phnom Penh is a very hot city, literally. Never underestimate the enigmatic street connections at 12 noon. It is a city of contradictions. You can never dissect the culture, if it's conservative or liberated.

As you step out of the bus, you'll sense the craziness of Phnom Penh, and of its tuk-tuk drivers.

Early morning chill in Phnom Penh
Amidst the 5 million poor people of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the capital is also a runway show for Class A luxury cars such as Hummers, Lincolns and BMW. My good friend told me the children from wealthy families own them. The business in the country range from poultry, fashion to heroin. 

I called my Canadian friend, Adam, whose suppose to pick me up from the bus terminal. A few minutes later, he arrives with another Australian friend, Matt. Soon after, I squeezed myself as the third passenger of his Honda motorbike, and off we go to explore this city.

Hanging out with the noodle family
Living in Phnom Penh
I settled down at his apartment where i will stay for two weeks. His apartment is located few blocks away from the mall, near the old market and a few steps away from Heart of Darkness. For about $100 a month, he rents out the apartment on the third floor. With two rooms, a sala and a balcony in tow, this is an awesome deal. Nearby is a Filipino store which sells P80 Lucky Me noodles. I'm nearing a month out of the country and I badly miss familiar food so i splurged a little. 

Independence Monument in the capital city of Cambodia
Here comes the tricky part. Phnom Penh is a hit or miss kinda city. It's either you'll fall in love with the city so much or you hate it that you want to leave the soonest possible time. 

A hammock stands still in the apartment
Most of my days were spent cooling off in the balcony waiting for the heat of the sun to subside. With a music blasting on the speakers, i chill there a lot. There were days were i will open my book and read a few pages, and doze off  minutes later. When you look down, you'll see the world pass by.

Late breakfast with the expats of Cambodia
Breakfast of Champions
I would wake up around 10 in the morning depending on how my night the previous day was. We would scoot to the best breakfast place where they serve really a champion plate of bacon, hash browns and pancakes for about $3. Go back to the apartment and shower.

Madness of motorcycles at Preah Trasak, Cambodia
Walk Around the City
Some days, I would spend my days walking around the city. I would visit the market to shop, walk around the neighborhood and chat , or i would run my errands. When i'm more lazy, i would just sit in a restaurant, drink fruit shake nicely priced at $.75 and hang out with lovely Khmer girls. If i stumble upon an internet shop, i will update my blog and skype with my family. Internet costs about $1 for an hour use.

If you're wondering Where to Stay in Phnom Penh. Two choices come to mind. 

Dusk till dawn happening by the river side, Phnom Penh
The River Side
This is where most backpackers stay because of the wide variety of cheap rooms. You can choose a fan or a/c room. Most of the rooms have cable TV. Location is perfect because there's a bunch of restaurants and bars nearby.

Afternoon chill at the lake side, Phnom Penh
The Lake Side
This is so called "the ghetto" district where cheap rooms are floating on stilts by the lake. Rooms cost $5 or sometimes less than that. There are restaurants, pool tables, lounge areas with foreign DVD movies playing 24/7. You can find a good place to chill out during happy hour and watch the sunset. This is the place I would go to around 5PM to drink Anchor Beer, while my friends teaching English to Khmer kids at the preparatory school.

A pose in front of the central market in Phnom Penh
Shopping is awesome in Phnom Penh too. But haggling is a very daunting task. Generally, most shops would sell silk art, fashion clothing, handicrafts and food.

Central Market (Psah Thmei)
It's always a delight to visit this huge market interconnecting with different buildings. The building is built with an awesome architecture in mind. The famous clock is displayed within the vast walls shaped like a giant spaceship. You can buy everything here; from toiletries, home furnishings, $1 underwear set, leather belts, branded shoes, backpacks, jewelry, designer knock offs, and bags. Name it, Psah Thmei has it. If you become tired from shopping, it's good to know that there are a dozen of restaurants and eateries within the area. 

Shoppers start early at the Russian Market
Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Poung)
A tuk-tuk ride away from anywhere in the city is the Russian market. Stalls are right next to each other. You can buy music and movie DVD's here, baby clothes, pants, artifacts, jewelry and art. There's GAP, OLD NAVY, and A&F. If the fit is not right, you can check out the tailor next door to whip up a couple of inches on your pants.

Best seafood meal in Cambodia
It's quite confusing placing an order because the menu is in Khmer. I placed an order of stewed beef and pointed at the photo to be sure. Minutes later, my dried squid came. The best Khmer food is right by the wet market, and it's not too expensive. Anchor beer is sold for $.80 ,while most fried dishes should cost you around $2 only.

Side street food joint in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fear Factor
If you're brave enough, go to one of the side street joints and order a plate of crickets. Can you handle it?

Crickets up for grabs in front of the Royal Palace

Friday, September 19, 2014

It's been one thousand four hundred sixty days, Guimaras

My love, it’s been four years since my eyes met yours.  I can still vividly remember the first time I laid my eyes on your splendor, it was unforgettable.  I remember how my hours were spent in pure amazement for I haven’t seen such a beautiful sight in this life of mine. I arrived not later than an hour before noon on a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the cool breeze of the ocean greeted me with a warm embrace. I sat on your lap, still, figuring out how I want to spend the rest of my life. Soon, I ordered for a delicious feast that didn't cost much. I finally found myself enjoying a plate of happiness and delight with you. It’s been three hundred thirty six hours of agony and pain for me before this...

The rest of the days I spent with you were days of uncertainty. I didn't know where the wind will take me. But i took it all in, with much courage and wisdom. I asked you a number of times about my purpose in life and you answered to me in silence. I could remember myself strolling along this beautiful shore, trying to catch the changing tides. I couldn't understand how tides can change so soon.

I often ask myself now, how destiny can play a trick on me, on us. Why do we have to part? I couldn’t forget you, you see. You’ve always been here, one that fills up my memory.

I met the smiles of many of those who live in simplicity. The people whose faces soon start to fade away now. I remembered them calling me once in a while, if there was anything I needed. They who have shown nothing but kindness to me, they still have visible images in my memory. I regret the days that I didn't get to spend a lifetime with them. I really do.

The days I spent where days of solitude. I remember walking the steps leading to the Virgin Mary. I prayed in isolation for a life well-lived. I often recall asking for something I couldn't figure out myself. I remember asking why life can be sometimes too difficult? I asked Her how much more pain can a man take? If it’s love that’s breaking my heart, why let it happen? I asked so many things that later on I lost count. I slept wondering and hoping.

Then, there were days of which I don’t think this lifetime could afford me to forget. I reminisce the days I spent with you, touching yours as I could feel your warmth, my lips as it met yours. If I could paint a picture of you now; it would be where little kids are smiling, the ocean dancing, the wind floating and the sunset... ahh the sunset!

It was nearing dusk this time. I remember crossing my legs and sitting like a little boy on the edge of a beautiful mountain that couldn’t be broken. I sat there with my eyes closed, my senses opened. I sat there for a bit, and little by little I remembered why my life is worth the sorrow. I thought about the people who made me feel special. I remembered ours, and how it was such a beautiful beginning. I drew a picture in my head of a long road with many paths, waiting for us. I thought about other places and how they too shook the hell out of me. I looked for more things that could paint a smile in my heart, and sooner than i thought, my life began again. I slowly opened the greatest sense to man and chanced upon a magical moment. I will never forget, this moment. 

It’s been one thousand four hundred sixty days of waiting for me. I couldn't let myself run away from you again, My Love.  If I had the moment to leave this all behind me, I would. I couldn't any more live another day, another hour, another minute apart from you. The days I spend here far away from your embrace were days of longing, of yearning, of desire.

You have to believe me that even though I’ve traveled miles away from you, and have met others, I still couldn't see myself having a far more great love than what I have for you. I remember the days that you were with me, and those days I want to feel like they’re just yesterday. I hope my letter reaches you in time before someone else takes my place in your heart. If someone else catches your heart more than I, hush for it's been forgiven. I still have a lifetime ahead of me to find out, if ever I should forget you, will I then be able to live the days of my life? I don’t want another you, you see.

I’ll see you soon, my love. Oh, how much i miss you. It was you who made me whole again. I couldn't be blessed more knowing this beautiful life of mine is worth living, because I found you.

Remembering you, always!
Pinoy Boy Journals XxX

Guimaras, you've shown me how much more beautiful life is. If people ask me, will I ever forget about you? I will speak of silence and truth, for you've never left my memory, ours will never be forgotten. 

 This entry is part of 
Pinoy Travel Bloggers' Blog Carnival 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Aggressive Tuk-Tuk Driver of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

STORY: There are many of us who are quick to judge on people. It's man's greatest fault, and there is no excuse for it. I am guilty. But as you travel to distant places and meet people who live totally different lives, slowly you will realize that there is much goodness in this world. We're just too clouded by misunderstandings and misinterpretations from people we talk to or stories we read. I sincerely believe that deep in the heart of every man, there is love and willingness to help other people. With a few exceptions, whatever happens, always believe in the goodness of men

We've become so cautious of the people we meet. Because of this, we're slowly losing that great sense of hope for humanity. We are missing the utmost joy of travel, and that is crossing paths with random people who may shape our lives forever. 

I've been on the road on and off for about seven years now. I've met some rude and deceiving  people which i would like to bury in my past.  But i'd like to say I've met more strangers who were so warm and kind-hearted that it felt to me that i was part of their family, i was part of their lives. 

From the very day i started with my adventure up until today as i write this down, i can always recall those people. They will never ever be forgotten. I will live to tell stories from the road.

"The Tuk-Tuk Driver"

I arrived in Phnom Penh after a grueling eight-hour bus ride. It was hot, humid and the place was full of dust. There were many touts that day, but one tuk-tuk driver was very persistent. He caught me from the bus station, with just a second of contact. He looked like every single one of the tuk-tuk drivers; a little taller than me, and the sweat falling down from his hair was obvious. He was wearing cut off pants and a shirt that must have been washed too many times. You know how tuk-tuk drivers are. 

I've had my share of misfortunes in the past, and i got fooled several times by ridiculous tuk-tuk drivers. There were some who even fought with me and would not leave until i give them the money. Since then, I've been really cautious. This tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh was like every one else I've met in South East Asia. He wasn't particularly friendly and he doesn't even smile at me. He was very straight forward, and looked eager to earn some money.  He started following me wherever i go. He said he wanted to take me to a  cheap hostel. He even tried to curse the passing tuk-tuk driver for trying to pick me up along the highway. He was aggressive in convincing me to go with him. 

I tried to stay away, and in the process, I have left him countless number of times insisting i will look around. Miraculously, he still always manages to catch me. Finally, i gave in. 

His voice was commanding... "Hey Listen To Me!". I remember him uttering that line with great conviction. 

I arrived at the hostel a few minutes later, and i believe his was a legitimate deal. The room was great, the location is fantastic, and i paid him just as we agreed.

Days passed by, and i found myself still calling him to pick me up. I wandered around Phnom Penh; visiting pagodas, heading to the lake and river, and even on the outskirts of the city. He became my driver, guide and later on, a very good friend. 

There were times when the tuk-tuk he's driving will break down. All the time, he would say sorry and start fixing it right away. I always try  to help him but he always declines. By this time, he was asking me to only pay half of the price we agreed.

I looked at him, and saw honesty in his eyes. His genuine apology shot through my heart.

Nobody wanted for the tuk-tuk to break down. It's not his fault, but he took blame.  

I was quick to judge. I believe it has been one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and up until now i still feel bad for my actions. 

Was he persistent? Yes. Was he deceiving? Most definitely not. 

I just checked my phone book, and his contact number is still with me. His name is Tai and his number is 0924400230. If you're heading to Phnom Penh, promise me to ride with him. 
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